It turns out, a mixed reality headset can also be used by the blind. White Cane is an app for HoloLens; developed by Javier Davalos, a game developer who recently started experimenting with the possibilities of HoloLens.
White Cane, as the name suggests, is like a (perhaps better) cane for people with no or little vision. It uses different sounds and tones to give them a sense of the world around them.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is perhaps the perfect headset for a project like this. It’s self-powered and has all the necessary processing power built into it. That’s in stark contrast to some of the other augmented and virtual reality headsets.
Now, this might not be obvious for people not familiar with HoloLens, but the HoloLens comes with an inbuilt depth sensor. The nature of mixed reality requires a depth sensor, much like Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect camera.
Davalos’s app utilizes this depth sensor to scan the environment around a user and judge the distance, orientation, inclination, and direction of objects. Each of these metrics matters, and are converted into a unique sound or tone.
The app can also switch between mono and stereo modes. It’s like using one or two eyes; the video above does a better job of explaining how these two modes work.
Thanks to HoloLens’s speech recognition features, the app can also respond to voice commands. As an example, the user can ask how far an object is.
Davalos has submitted the app for approval on the Windows Store. It should be available for HoloLens as soon as Microsoft approves it for the store.
However, Davalos is primarily a game developer and does not have much experience developing software like this. At the moment, he requires feedback from actual users.
That’s the important bit, as Davalos admits there is much more he can do with this idea. If you are willing to use it and provide feedback, do contact him.
Unfortunately, there is the issue of price; a HoloLens dev kit costs $3,000, which is quite an investment. Fortunately, the HoloLens is much cheaper than other similar assistive technologies that start at about $15,000.